In Search of Something Real
As an advertising photographer, I spent the first 15 years of my career in a pollyanna world of illusion and make-believe where computer–enhanced images illustrated perfect products for sale to a wealthy nation. I worked in a controlled environment with no surprises, no room for mistakes, and no margin for error. It was a good living, I learned a lot about a lot of different industries and it was what I truly enjoyed doing.
Then in 1997, I went on assignment in Bahia, Brazil to photograph several cigar manufacturing facilities. That trip introduced me to a new and different reality. It fueled my interest in working on location in remote areas of the world. And it also inspired me to search for something a bit more “real” in my life and explore what contribution I could make sharing complex stories about complex places.
After a lifetime fascination with African tribal cultures, I made my first trip to Kenya in the year 2000. I went to Africa to challenge myself, to challenge my understanding of the world and to challenge myself as a photographer. My trip to Kenya was about me, about my growth, my challenge, and about developing my skills. But I didn’t anticipate meeting Peter Muigai Muruthi or being touched by the children of Kenya.
Muigai (as he prefers to be called) was my safari guide on that trip, and several more since. His big smile beamed as he talked about his adopted son Ruoro and the Makena Children’s Foundation he started with American Sherri Mills. Ruoro was an orphan eating out of dumpsters when Muigai found him living on the streets of Nairobi. Soon he was in a loving home with Peter and his wife Jane and was enrolled into one of Kenya’s finest primary schools with the help of the Foundation.
During my two weeks in Kenya so many years ago, I learned that for poor children in the developing world, the “real” I was searching for is often harsh and unforgiving. I found working in the unpredictable and often overwhelming situations to be the most challenging and rewarding experience of my life. It required me to find the courage to engage the unfamiliar and let go of my sense of control. It taught me to travel with innocent eyes, without preconception and prejudice, and to let the experience simply unfold in front of me. I also learned that it is impossible to travel into some of the world’s poorest communities and not be moved by courageous people that confront issues of survival that most of us simply take for granted.
As a photographer and travel writer, I have been fortunate to visit some of the world’s great places. I have met hundreds of fascinating people and been touched by both the beauty and tragedy of the human condition. I have also met some very special people who saw a need, addressed a problem and were determined to make a difference in the lives of children who live below the radar of governments and international aid organizations. Many of these social entrepreneurs are American travelers who partnered with a local individual or community to build a school or library, hire a teacher, help pay for books, supplies and uniforms, or cover the tuition for a child in need.
I have started Innocent Eyes Project, Inc. to financially assist grassroots child education programs working in developing countries, like the Makena Children’s Foundation, by raising and allocating funds for projects where small amounts of money can have the largest impact on underserved children and communities. Clearly, we can’t begin to confront global child education issues requiring billions of dollars and governmental resources, but together we can do some wonderful small things that will create a ripple effect and touch the lives of thousands with targeted donations to programs that have a proven record of success.
Unlike most street kids in Niarobi, Ruoro wasn’t high on sniffing glue. He was smart and eager to earn a better future. Jane and Peter gave him a family, they gave him love, and they gave him an education. Today, that young man, who prefers to be called James, has graduated with cum laude honors from Miami University of Ohio. He is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Georgia, and like all Makena children, he is committed to helping his village back home.
The story of James (Ruoro) Muruthi shows how some dedicated people can make a big difference in small ways. Today we can harness the power of a community of travelers and support the true hero’s in the field, the service providers, who are delivering a sustained impact on local communities. Thank you for your interest and your support.
Let’s Start a Ripple!
See more of David’s work at: www.NoyesTravels.com